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You Hear but don’t Listen!

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ear2You’ve heard it before (excuse the pun)… “you hear but don’t listen…” but is that not the same thing? The two words are almost interchangeable so whats the difference? The english language being what it is, is a complex beast and yes the two words can be quite similar in meaning yet also quite distinct.

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between the two is by recognising that one is a passive word and the other is quite active. When someone asks you ‘can you hear the thunder’, it is a passive remark, simply enquiring as to whether you ears have picked up on the audible sound or not. A simple yes/no answer could suffice in this instance. But if the person says ‘listen to the thunder’, this requires you to act, to focus in on the proposed sound and then to acknowledge that you can/cannot hear it.

It gets a bit more complex when the words are used in the context of speech, for example: ‘Have you heard what I’ve said’ and ‘Do you listen to what I’m saying’ both seem to suggest the same meaning yet they can be shown to be two very separate and distinct questions with quite opposite answers. It’s plausible to answer yes to the first and no to the second question and still not be contradicting yourself! Yes, you ears passively picked up the sounds of your voice so Yes, I hear you. No, I’ve not actively done anything with the sound of your voice, not interpreted it, not processed what you’ve said so No, I have not listened!

It gets even worse: ‘You listen but haven’t heard a word I’ve said’. In this example, unless the person is mute, the two words have been erroneously interchanged. There is only one meaning which is; you have passively heard the sound of my voice yet have not actively interpreted or absorbed any of the content of that sound. Its impossible to listen to something you cannot hear!

So next time someone asks you ‘have heard Obama’s latest speech’ or ‘have you listened to Obama’s latest speech’, think twice before answering.

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